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THE PROVINCE OF VERA CRUZ.
EXTENT OF THE CITY OF VERA Cruz-EntrepÔT OF COMMERCE-CHARACTER
THERE are few records as to the condition of the rovince of Vera Cruz for some twenty or thirty years after the sack of its capital. About 1730 the city contained perhaps three thousand Spaniards, mulattoes, and negroes, apart from its garrison; the remainder of its heterogeneous population including people from all the western nations of Europe. The city was about one sixth of a league in length and half that distance in width. Most of the inhabitants were mulattoes; some of them being wealthy, for money was readily made at this entrepôt of commerce, and even the negro slaves could accumulate enough to purchase their freedom.
In the middle of the sixteenth century Vera Cruz was but an insignificant port, serving as a landingplace for the bands of adventurers who came to the shores of New Spain. At the opening of the nineteenth century it was the commercial emporium of a territory whose vast resources, little developed as they are even to this day, had excited the envy of the world. At the latter date its population was estimated at over thirty-five thousand, of whom about
twenty thousand were permanent residents. The inhabitants were quiet, orderly, and peaceable. Business dishonesty was unknown, and property of all kinds was secure, few precautions being needed to insure its safety. There were no beggars in the streets, and few criminals in the public jail; the poorer classes were all employed in some useful occupation, and among the rich were not a few who had acquired immense fortunes in commercial pursuits. The government employés, both civil and military, performed their duties faithfully and were accorded the consideration due to their rank. The church was well supported, and the religious orders were among the largest property-holders in the province.2
1Of the floating population 3,640 were seamen, 7,370 muleteers, and 4,500 passengers, troops, servants, and non-resident tradesmen. Lerdo de Tejada, Apunt. Hist., 366. In old Vera Cruz there was in 1777 a population of 777 persons, of whom only 39 were Spaniards. Vera Cruz, Fabrica, in Mex. Doc. Ecles., MS., i. no. ii. fol. 10. At this date the population of the new city was estimated by the traveller De Menonville, in Pinkerton's Col. Voy., xiii. 777, at 6,000 to 7,000. If this be so it had increased more than five-fold within 30 years. The writer affirms that at the time of his visit the houses were built entirely of stone brought from Campeche, and that he saw the ruins of at least 20 buildings that had lain there for fifty years, the walls of which were of masonry; but why stone should be brought from Campeche when there was excellent material in the neighborhood he does not explain. Speaking of the city he remarks that not the slightest culture embellishes the neighborhood. The men,' he continues, are, generally speaking, loftyminded and proud; either from this being the specific character of their nation, or owing to their excessive wealth in a country where gold stamps so much value on its possessor. They comprehend trade very well, but here, as elsewhere, their natural indolence, and their rooted habits, and superstition, render them irremediably averse from labour. Incessantly they are seen with their chaplets and relics on their arms and round their neck; their houses are filled with statues and paintings of saints; and their life is a series of devotional practices. The women live recluse in their apartments above stairs, to avoid being seen by strangers; though it is by no means difficult to perceive that, but for the restrictions placed on them by their husbands, they would be far more easy of access. Within doors they wear over the shirt nothing but a small silk corset, laced with a gold or silver cord. Still, though so simple their dress, they wear a gold necklace, bracelets at the wrist of the same metal, and at their ears pendants of emeralds of greatest value. Generally speaking, the fair in this city are not handsome; for however rich their dress they show a deficiency of grace and fancy, and, under an apparent reserve, are strongly inclined to lasciviousness. The only amusements are the nevería, a sort of coffee-house, whither the genteeler sort repair to take ice-creams, and some imitations of bull-fights for the vulgar; unless indeed under this denomination be comprised the processions and flagellations of the holy week.'
* In 1746 Vera Cruz contained seven convents belonging to the Dominican, Franciscan, Augustinian, and Merced orders, two hospitals, and a Jesuit colHIST. MEX., VOL. III. 14
At this period the trade of Vera Cruz probably exceeded thirty million pesos a year. Apart from commerce the city had little to depend upon. So limited was the area of cultivated land in its vicinity3 that nearly all the leading articles of consumption were brought from a distance. Stock-raising was the chief occupation in the surrounding country, and hides and dried fish the only commodities exported from the province. Much of the prosperity now enjoyed was due to the measures adopted by Cárlos III. in 1778 with a view to facilitate commerce between Spain and her colonies. Many of the restrictions which had aimed at a monopoly of trade, and had served only to divert it into the hands of foreigners, were now removed, and no community was more greatly benefited thereby than that of Vera Cruz, which was still the only port of entry on the northern seaboard of New Spain. In 1795 a tribunal of commerce was established there by royal decree, and its operations were of great benefit both to the city and the province. At the opening of the nineteenth century the city had attained the full growth of her prosperity, and more substantial buildings were erected than during the two preceding centuries. The madrepore stone, called by the natives piedra múcura, and found in abundance on the reefs
lege. There were also two chapels outside the walls. Villa-Señor, Teatro, i. 271. Although there were more priests in Vera Cruz than were needed, many of the towns in the district had none, and in 1802 had not been visited by the bishop of Puebla, to whose diocese they belonged, for 47 years. The first hospital was established by two Jesuits on the island of San Juan de Ulúa. During the rule of the Marquis of Montesclaros a hospital was founded in Vera Cruz and named after the marquis. It was abandoned in 1805. The next one founded in the city was the military hospital of San Carlos, completed in 1764. One named Our Lady of Loreto was built for the accommodation of women, and one for convalescents was commenced in 1784 and placed in charge of the Bethlehemite nuns. The last three, together with the public hospital of San Sebastian, existed in 1807. Lerdo de Tejada, Apunt. Hist., 377-8.
3 Elsewhere in the province agricultural products were considerable, including among other items 300,000 fanegas of corn a year, 243,750 arrobas of cotton, and 80,000 arrobas of sugar. Lerdo de Tejada, Apunt. Hist., 365-6.
*Consulado.' In 1784 the office of 'comandancia del resguardo de todas las rentas' was created in Vera Cruz by order of the crown, the regulations adopted being the same as those in force at Cádiz.
PREVALENCE OF DISEASE.
in the harbor, supplied an excellent material, and came into general use. Before this time the houses were built for the most part of wood, although during the preceding century and a half the city had several times been partly destroyed by fire.5
The streets of Vera Cruz were regularly laid out, their direction corresponding with that of the cardinal points of the compass. Their pavement was commenced in 1765 and completed in 1776. In April of the following year they were lighted for the first time by order of the municipality. In 1790 a cemetery was opened outside the walls of the city, and by order of the viceroy the burial of the dead in church vaults was forbidden. To this practice and to the scantiness and poor quality of the water may be attributed in part the pestilences from which the inhabitants were seldom free. The rich obtained their supply from cisterns built on their own premises, the poor from an aqueduct which was usually empty during two or three months in the year, when they were dependent on a single well sunk near the bastion of Santa Bárbara. Another cause of the prevalence of disease was the overcrowding of the houses, which were packed so closely together in the poorer quarters of the town as to impede the circulation of the air.
The rains set in at Vera Cruz about the 20th of March and lasted for six months, being followed by violent north-west winds which continued almost throughout the dry season, raising the sand in such clouds as often to obstruct the sight and render breathing difficult. September and October were the most unhealthy months, and it was then that the sickness
5 The fire of 1618, spoken of on page 27 of this volume, is not even mentioned by Miron in Noticia Instructiva, although there is no doubt that it occurred; but he speaks of two others that happened in 1606 and 1608.
As early as 1703 an attempt was made to bring water into the city from the river Jamapa. In 1795 a dam was built and an aqueduct constructed for some distance, but the work was abandoned. Though surveys have since been made and revenues assigned for the purpose, nothing has been accomplished. Lerdo de Tejada, Apunt. Hist., 322-6.
1 Constructed by Malibran in 1726.
known as the black-vomit was the most deadly. This Scourge was supposed to have been introduced by an English slave-ship in the year 1699, but was more probably an endemic disease due to the causes already mentioned, and to the malaria generated by decaying animal and vegetable matter. At the close of the last and the beginning of the present century so great was the havoc wrought by this malady that it was proposed to abandon the site of Vera Cruz and remove to Jalapa.
The port of Vera Cruz was neither safe nor commodious, being but a roadstead, sheltered on the east side by a few small and widely separated reefs and islands. On the north it was entirely exposed, and from September to March was swept by violent north winds, which made the anchorage unsafe. The island of San Juan de Ulúa is less than a mile distant from the city, only its south-west point on which the fort was built being above high-water mark. On the leeward side of this island, facing the city, vessels made fast by cable ropes to huge bolts and rings let into the walls of the fort. Here the depth of water was six or eight fathoms, and from this point passengers and freight were transferred to the mainland in boats. Opposite the city, and at about the same distance, was a small reef called Lavandera, near which was also an anchoring ground for merchant craft. Five or six miles to the south-east are the islands of Verde and Sacrificios, where were the quarantine ground and the station for ships of war. The harbor was entered by two channels, the best one being on the north side, between Ulúa and the mainland, with a depth of four to five fathoms and a width of four hundred varas. The other channel lay between the island of Sacrifi
8 Humboldt, Essai, i. 276-9. In 1803, the eminent Spanish physician Florencio Perez de Comoto declared that the disease had not been introduced from any foreign country. The presence of foreigners, of whom large numbers died of yellow fever, was, however, believed to aid the development of the germs of this disease, and such was the experience in all places subject to it. In 1825 the legislature offered a reward of 100,000 pesos to any one who should discover a remedy.